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  • Writer's pictureJason Leppert

INTERVIEW: Windstar to Stay Small Despite Big Growth

PHOTO: Windstar’s Wind Star anchored at Coiba Island, Panama. (photo via Flickr/size4riggerboots)

Windstar Cruises is in the news due to its destination expansion, and it is making waves as a brand as well.

I had the chance to sit down with the Windstar’s president John Delaney at Seatrade Cruise Global to chat about it all.

The latest reveal is that the company will go to Canada and New England for the first time, sending its 212-guest Star Pride yacht in and out of New York during the summer and fall of 2018 on four sailings.

The Star Legend will also sail to Alaska in the spring and summer of 2018, something Delaney expounded on:

“We’re not doing the standard seven-day. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re going to take advantage of the small ship size and really get into the nooks and the crannies of the Inside Passage. So, we’re doing 12-day and 14-day cruises, and we’ll do things like Misty Fiords national park. … We’re going to anchor the ship deep up in the Misty Fiords national park as far as you can get up there.”

Glaciologists and wildlife experts will be onboard, while the marina will facilitate zodiacs and kayaks directly off the ship. The same will be true of Kenai Fjords as well.

Also, the ship will first arrive in Seattle, where the crew can be celebrated with a barbecue in the cruise line’s hometown. Then, everyone in the office will have a chance to sail up to Vancouver to experience it all firsthand.

“We are true small ship cruising,” Delaney explained when asked about where he sees Windstar in the greater cruise marketplace, with ships accommodating only 146 to 310 passengers.

“We are very upscale. There’s no question about that. The services that we have on that ship [are well staffed with] 164 crew for just 212 guests, 100 crew for 146 on the wind ship, but we’re casual. We do not have formal nights. … If you’re in [the] 85-degree Mediterranean off the coast of Greece, you do not have to put a suit on or sports coat. Be casual and enjoy your vacation.”

Currently, the line features a seven-day menu cycle, but the former food and beverage vice president of Princess Cruises, Peter Tobler, has been hired to change things up. Graeme Cockburn, former executive chef at Seabourn was previously brought on by Tobler at Princess but is now the executive chef of Windstar, where he is developing regionally specific 14- and 21-day menu cycles for warm and cold weather itineraries.

“Our food is going to get even better,” Delaney added.

“The other thing that we’re really excited about is really taking this James Beard relationship to the next level. What I love about it personally is that we’re not tied to a chef. We have access to their full roster.

“So, we will work to develop with them, with their chefs, so that every menu every night, you’ve got a James Beard appetizer, entree, dessert. … And some of these guys are great regional chefs. The best Vietnamese chef in the world right now is actually an American James Beard chef who’s just doing amazing stuff. We’re going to Vietnam, so you know we can incorporate some of that local flavor.”

As a coveted millennial cruiser, I was curious to see how the line’s demographic may be shifting, and Delaney shared that there has been huge growth among my generation, particularly in Tahiti and the Greek Isles.

“The wind ship I think appeals to the millennials. It’s something that’s different and unique and [what] they want to do. And once they find us, they really seem to love us and want to come back. And what’s really nice too, is even our more traditional Windstar guests, they live young. I mean they really do. They’re active. They’re up there doing things, so they’re blending just like normal. It’s like it’s a big family with the small ships.”

Overall, the line’s repeat rate is 50 percent in fostering loyalists. 20 percent of guests are entirely new to cruising, thanks to the allure of Tahiti, which remains its highest rated product outside of North America. The company has had especial success with river cruise passengers who have not yet ventured out to the ocean.

“We’re the perfect step for them because they like the size of the riverboats,” said Delaney.

“Maybe they have some stereotypes about the great big ships and have some barriers to trying that. Then they hear about [a] 146-passenger beautiful ship or 200-passenger all-suite ship with all the great amenities, and we’re kind of like that perfect step for them. We are getting a lot of people from the larger ships who want to try small ships.”

While there are great things already happening at Windstar, Delaney is very excited for the future as well. This includes using the sails more frequently on the original ships.

Complete restorations of said systems are in store to fix any hydraulic leaks and unfurling issues with new sails that will be more of a focus. In fact, a weeklong roundtrip cruise from Athens during 2018 will not list its exact itinerary except a few points; In between, the ship will randomly go wherever it can exclusively by sail.

“So many of our guests are real sailers. They’ll be up on the bridge checking the course, checking the routing, checking the wind speed, having a blast.”

Windstar will also continue to expand, globally sourcing more from the UK, Australia and Germany and being altogether more trade-friendly.

Delaney admitted, “Windstar candidly today is like a diamond in the rough. It really is a jewel we need to polish.”

It’s well on its way, even considering purchasing existing ships or building new ones as long as they fit the current yacht and sailing ship model.

“We are going to stay small. … This is our sweet spot,” Delaney emphasized.

Delaney is next-most excited to see the full fruition of current efforts aboard next year’s president’s cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong, heading to the Philippines aboard the Star Legend.

“We are going to have our Filipino crew hosting our guests on shore excursions and on tours. And you can imagine they’re already like family with our guests. Now your dining room steward that you’ve known for five cruises is going to take you out and be with you on a shore excursion to his homeland.”

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